A convicted killer currently awaiting execution in Connecticut is concerned that the Northern Correctional Institution is serving him non-kosher meals. The death row inmate was so concerned that he filed a lawsuit. Unfortunately for him, a Connecticut federal judge is not as troubled about what food the murderer is eating, and has rejected the man’s complaints.
Steven Hayes, 51, is currently awaiting his execution in Connecticut’s most secure prison for murdering a woman and her two daughters. He filed a lawsuit in August against the state’s Department of Correction because he believes the kosher meals the prison’s kitchen is currently serving are not prepared according to Jewish dietary law. In his lawsuit, Hayes says that he is a converted Orthodox Jew who “signed up” to be Jewish upon learning that a rabbi would be visiting the prison. He has been asking to be served kosher meals since May of 2013. He claims to have suffered “emotional injury” from being forced to eat the non-kosher meals in order to survive, and in turn sinning against God.
Hayes’ requests for an immediate, temporary injunction and a hearing were denied on Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Thompson. In his ruling, Judge Thompson commented that kosher meals are offered to Hayes and that the Connecticut Department of Correction commissioned two rabbis to periodically ensure that the kosher foods prepared in the prison kitchen are done according to Jewish law. Both rabbis submitted sworn affidavits that the kitchen is complying with dietary laws in the preparation of the kosher meals.
In addition, the judge noted in his ruling that Hayes failed to prove that even if the prison lacks a “reliable orthodox certificate or an onsite Jewish overseer,” it does not necessarily follow that the prison’s meals are not kosher. Although Hayes’ lawsuit was not tossed out by Judge Thompson, his rejection of the motions indicate that he does not believe it likely to succeed.
The Connecticut Department of Correction, in response to the complaint, said that Hayes has been offered a kosher diet, but has “failed and/or refused” to accept it. According to an amended complaint which was handwritten by Hayes and filed in November, Hayes claims that he has not eaten any food which he believes is non-kosher since August 24. Although Connecticut prison records list Hayes as 5-foot-7 and weighing 170 pounds in 2007, the inmate says that he now weighs under 120 pounds. A Correction Department spokeswoman has said that Hayes denies being on a hunger strike.
Hayes and his criminal accomplice, Joshua Komisarjevsky, were sentenced to death for murdering Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11. The two men burst into their Cheshire, Connecticut, home in 2007 and tied them up. Before setting the home on fire, the men sexually assaulted two of the victims. The husband of Hawke-Petit, Dr. William Petit, survived but was beaten severely. The horrific details of the crime and controversy surrounding the actions of police who may have been able to rescue the family was the subject of the HBO documentary titled The Cheshire Murders.
Hayes also claims to have suffered other instances of being discriminated against due to his religion, including being put on suicide watch last year because he observed the Yom Kippur holiday by fasting. In the past, Hayes has filed unsuccessful lawsuits alleging that he has not received adequate mental health care, prison workers harass him and his cell is not kept at a livable temperature.
By Jennifer Pfalz
Photo of kosher meal by Edsel Little – License